In this life a Christian strives to be spiritually mature – Christlike. In this journey, and even for those who grow to spiritual maturity, life is an endless drawing closer to God, and allowing Him to change us from the inside out. It’s a ceaseless approaching to Him.
So how does this work? How do we come closer to Him?
I’d like to explore this question by taking a look at various ways of coming close to God. These are usually called spiritual disciplines or spiritual practices, and are to help us in the “process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others” (as Robert Mulholland, Jr defines them). One of these disciplines is Bible study, the foundation for our understanding of God and His will for our lives.
But before we get into the practics of how to read the Bible for life application, we need a foundation. Just like a house is built from the foundation up to the walls and roof, so our spiritual life needs a firm foundation for understanding God and His ways.
So in the next several blogs I want to spend some time on the foundation of the discipline of Bible study. Unless we begin with the right foundation — a right understanding of God and His Word — the whole building will collapse.
Understanding some basic principles of studying the Bible will not only enable us to know God and His will better, but will also protect us from going astray.
The first principle is . . .
. . . that we must accept the entire Bible as God’s Word to us.
If we do not read the Bible as God’s sacred Book – ALL of it – we can be misunderstanding its message. This means that we must read from Genesis to Revelation and realize that God inspired all of it.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
Obviously when Paul was writing, he was talking about the Tanakh, the “Old Testament.” Paul was trained in the Scriptures, and probably knew much by heart
While he wrote these words near the end of his life, and may have seen one or two accounts of Jesus’ life by that time (or may not have), it is also true that the New Testament wasn’t formed into a canon until long after Paul. So when he spoke about the Scriptures he referred to the Tanakh, the Scripture he had learned from a child.
The same with Timothy. Paul commends him, saying,
“from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 3:15.
The only Scriptures Timothy had growing up was the Tanakh.
This means that the message of Genesis or Psalms or Isaiah is still relevant to us.
Certainly those things that specifically pointed to Jesus’ coming have now been fulfilled. Thankfully, we no longer need to sacrifice animals in anticipation of the coming of the Lamb because the Lamb has already come.
But the truth in the Tanakh still stands and is still relevant. We can learn from it, even from those things that pointed to Jesus’ coming as a human and are already fulfilled.
In Jesus’ time the Sadducees did not believe in any other portion of the Tanakh except the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Not believing in the whole Scripture available to them left them disagreeing with the Pharisees and others, and missing out on some biblical understandings.
Many people now believe that the New Testament is the only Bible, and discount what has been written in the Tanakh as “outdated,” or not relevant.
But if we are going to understand the words of Scripture both for truth and for our life, we must understand that all Scripture is inspired and profitable for us.
When Jesus spoke about the Scriptures, He was also talking about the Tanakh. Stop and think about it – when Jesus was on earth, the Gospels had not yet been written – they were being lived! So the only Bible that Jesus and the disciples knew was the Tanakh.
“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” John 5:39
Yes, even the Tanakh testified about Jesus! After His resurrection He still pointed people to the Tanakh. He walked with two men to Emmaus . . .
“And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” Luke 24:27.
The first principle of Bible study, then, is to realize that God’s message to us is found in the entirety of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and is valid and relevant to us today. To disregard any part of Scripture is to walk in uncharted territory where God has not trod. But He does know the way of all Scripture for He wrote it.
“For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish” Psalm 1:6.
How have you related to the Bible as a whole? Please leave a comment below!